Rescuers managed to snap these pictures of the doe and buck they rescued from Rondeau Bay on Jan. 28, one of the few days this winter there was ice on the day. Submitted to the Ridgetown Independent News with permission by Stubbington

There was barely enough ice on Rondeau Bay this winter to fill a cooler. But there was just enough ice at one point in late January for a daring rescue.

It was back on Saturday, Jan. 28, the first day of a cold snap that resulted in ice on the bay for the only extended period all season.

There were no ice fishermen, snowmobilers or ice surfers on the bay this day, but a Rondeau Park warden and a maintenance staff member did perform a life-saving rescue on a pair of park residents.

No, not people – but they rescued a doe and buck that fell through the ice about 50 metres directly offshore from the park entrance late that morning.

“We got the call around noon,” said Rondeau Park Warden Zack Stubbington, as residents spotted the deer in peril.

Stubbington made a couple of calls to wildlife and ministry officials but was told there was nothing they could do.

“So it was to the point that either my other staff member and myself do something or we just watch them freeze to death,” said Stubbington.

By the breaks in the ice, it appeared the deer had travelled about 800 metres into the bay when they turned around but were stranded about 50 metres offshore.

The maintenance man, who wished to remain anonymous, knew keenly about the bay waters.

“He knew the water was only a little above your knee on the way out and a little above the waistline where the deer were, so we decided to head out,” Stubbington said.

The pair donned their PPE, grabbed ice rescue gear, and headed toward the deer.

“The ice was an inch, maybe a couple of inches … we could break it no problem with a punch,” said Stubbington. “They had been in the water for about 40 minutes to an hour and were exhausted.”

“The water was up to their necks, and they had basically run out of energy trying to break through, and they couldn’t pull themselves back onto the ice,” Stubbington said.

The pair opened a path in the ice for the deer to follow, but as they moved closer to shore, they were startled by a barking dog, retreated further into the bay, and again became stranded.

“We noticed they had stopped moving, and they were freezing into the ice,” stated Stubbington. “We knew hypothermia would set in, and they could die.”

It took about an hour for the pair to reach the deer as they worked their way behind them and virtually chased them back toward the shore. The deer eventually found their way back to the original path the men had made and, this time could follow it to shore. Once they hit land, the doe and buck darted back into the safety of the park.

The entire episode lasted about four hours, Stubbington said, as it was the first time he was involved in any type of water rescue in his career.

“It was a rare situation. If it were deeper and real ice, we probably wouldn’t have been able to go out,” he said.

Stubbington said it was important that he had a partner even though the rescue was conducted in shallow water.

“You should never attempt a rescue by yourself. You should always get help from someone trained and knows what they’re doing,” he said, as both men had water rescue training.

On the day of the deer rescue, Lake Erie’s total ice coverage was only 0.8 percent and limited to the north shore and Rondeau Bay, thanks to the above-average temperatures for the first four weeks of January. The cold wave continued into the week, creating a thicker ice cover by the day. By the following weekend, ice fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts could finally get out on the bay as ice coverage on Lake Erie peaked at 40.18 percent on Sunday, Feb. 5.

However, warmer temperatures moved back into the area, and by Sunday, Feb. 12, the bay was open again.

“People were ice fishing one day, and the next day it was open water,” Stubbington said as a warm front and strong wind combined to push the ice away from shore.

Lake Erie’s ice coverage dropped below one percent by Feb. 14 and has been ice-free since Feb. 19.

But what little ice had appeared on the bay this winter created a rescue situation that two Rondeau Park workers will never forget.

By Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 20, 2023 at 13:15

This item reprinted with permission from   The Independent News   Ridgetown, Ontario
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